Breathe Me Page 15

It wasn’t just that, either. A brief scan of the room revealed that he’d been quite busy as I’d lain lazily snoring away in the bedroom. All the old fast food wrappers, soda cups and trash had been picked up and the living room tidied. The stale food smell was gone, as the windows had been thrown wide open, letting the early morning air float in. Turning toward the kitchen, my cheeks burned as I realized he’d washed all my dirty dishes, dried them and put them away.

Okay, I thought, I must still be dreaming.

“Hey, darling.” Sasha was carrying two juice glasses and a pitcher of orange juice. Had he gone to the store, too? He placed them on the table before approaching me, pulling me into a tight embrace as he slowly kissed my lips. His were so soft and a reminder of what exactly he could do with them flashed into my mind. It made me breathless as his strong, muscular arms held me up. Thank goodness, for I was afraid I was going to melt into the floor.

“Hi,” was all I managed to say when he pulled away. A small disappointment tore through me as I watched him step back to finish setting up the table. His arms needed to stay around me, forever if they could.

Grinning, he pulled out a chair and indicated that it was for me. “M’Lady, your breakfast is served.”

I laughed, slipping down onto the chair and admiring his shirtless chest. “You didn’t go to the store like that, did you? Those ladies there aren’t young anymore. You may have given one of them a heart attack. Quite possibly the siren I heard earlier.” My eyes were definitely devouring his fit physique, and I didn’t hide the longing. The time was over to swallow away my feelings. It was more exhausting than it was worth. Still, even though I wanted to rush over to him and run my lips over every muscle, I restrained myself and peeked down at the delicious food he’d prepared, just for me.

“Wow, you went all out.”

“Only the best.” He winked and dug into his own pile of food, obviously ravenous from the previous night’s activities. “Did I tell you I love to cook? Cam says I’m the only dad at his school who does. He even asked me if that made me different. I told him, ‘Sure, in an awesome, number-one-dad kind of way.’ He just threw me a weird look, like I was nuts, shrugged and continued on.”

I smiled, keeping my food from spilling out of my overstuffed mouth. It was so good I was eating too fast and knew I’d regret that later. I managed to swallow it down to talk. “Kids. You’ve done a great job, you know. I always thought I’d like some kids, but it didn’t seem to ever be in the cards.” The silent melancholy hit me suddenly, knowing full well that Cam probably should’ve been mine. I grabbed my glass of juice and took a huge gulp, hoping it would work out the knot forming in my throat.

“You still can, you know. I can see you being a really good mother.” He lifted his glass to me, clinking it against mine.

“Maybe.”

“I’m serious.”

Stuffed full, I watched him finish his meal before he got up to clear the table. “I just thought it would’ve happened already if I was going to have kids. But it never did happen.”

Sasha was at my side again, on his knees and rubbing my arms up and down. “Sometimes you just have to be patient. It’ll come when you’re ready.”

I nodded, still skeptical, as he played with my hair, his eyes turning dreamy as he took in my features. His tenderness felt relaxing, like a soothing balm on a sunburn.

“Give it time. I’m sure it’s coming.”

I wasn’t so convinced, but I didn’t argue.

“Look, I’m sorry about the other day.”

So he brought it up before I had to. I blew out a breath, relieved that he had. “I know.”

“Joss really loves you. She only wanted you to be happy, as do I.”

I nodded, not really knowing what to say because I could still feel the sting of their scheming. I understood why they’d done it, but I couldn’t help feeling betrayed. “It’s just… maybe including me in this would’ve been nice,” I said. “Why hide it from me?”

Sasha was massaging my hands, each finger slowly being kneaded between his. It felt amazing, and I fought the distraction of it stay keep focused, gritting my teeth and looking away.

“I know. I wanted to tell you. I’m not blaming Joss at all. We had discussed it extensively, and we both felt that if you didn’t know about it, you’d be more open to forgive me and maybe, just maybe, we could recapture what we had before I screwed it all up.”

“I hated you.”

The pain in his face stung, but it also brought a small satisfaction to me. I had wanted to hurt him, hadn’t I? To make him feel what I’d felt so long ago, when he’d shattered our love without remorse, without any valid reason. It was bittersweet.

“I know.”

“Wouldn’t you have a hard time loving someone again who’d torn your heart to shreds and stomped on it like squishing a bug? You want me to let it go and just say yes. Joss wants me to also. Hell, how can I fight you both? How can I let you know that what you did was unacceptable, back then and now? Don’t you realize how messed up it left me? You say you’re sorry, but how sorry are you? I know I love you, but I just don’t know how to forgive you.”

He watched me fuming, nothing but calm emanating from him. How he could take such an assault and not cave made me throw some points his way. I felt terrible almost immediately. Why did it feel worse than I thought it would have? Wasn’t it supposed to make me feel better?

“You know I regret it,” he said, “and that I’ve owned up to my mistake. Believe it or not, I felt just as much pain as you did. I’m not saying feel sorry for me, I just want to let you see that I paid for what I did, and I’ll continue to try to make it up to you.” He paused, pulling out the chair beside me and hoisting himself into it. He looked suddenly exhausted again, and the circles under his eyes were stark compared to other times I’d seen him.

“I’ve never told anyone this, because I don’t have anyone anymore, Piper. But I want you to know what’s been going on with me since I messed it up between us. You don’t have to forgive me, just listen.”

I didn’t move from my spot, but I did nod so he could continue.

“I didn’t want you to have to give up your perfectly planned life to follow me back to Moldova. I had to go back; my visa was expiring. So, like an idiot, I shoved you away so that you wouldn’t come looking for me, and I could leave knowing you had moved on. Well, I hadn’t planned to have a one night stand with Cam’s mother right after we broke up. I was trying to erase you from my memory, but I just buried myself even more. She got pregnant, a total shock for me. I didn’t love her, though for Cam’s sake, I tried. I’m not perfect.

“I wish I had known that I’d be able to return here faster than I had initially thought, but by then, I’d already f**ked it all up between us. I’m not this devil that you perceive me as. I messed up when I hurt you, you know that. I made a sorry excuse to run from the only person that made me feel like it was okay to be me. But I ran into more mistakes, no matter what I did. I had to take responsibility for my actions, and it had to start with Cam. I don’t know if you’ve ever made such mistakes, but I think about them every day. Every day. Wasn’t that long enough to pay for what I’ve done? Wasn’t leaving me with a little kid who I didn’t even know what to do with enough? I love him, and I love you, but I still pay every second of the day for my stupid decisions. I just wanted you to know that no matter what, I’m here now. I’m here now, and I don’t plan on walking away ever again. I’m here if you want me.”

I was floored, my mouth hanging open like I was catching flies. I had never expected him to say anything like that, and there was no way for me to recover from it. Clamping my mouth shut seemed like the best idea at the moment, so I did, licking my now parched lips as my heart fluttered inside.

“Piper, I hoped and prayed that one day you could look at me and not think of how I left you. I really do. I dreamt of telling you these things for so long in the hope that you’d take me back. Even so, you know what the worst part is?”

I shook my head, still stunned. Why did he have to slice himself open and hand me his heart on a platter, bleeding and still pumping furiously? Had I asked for that? Had I been so wrong about him for too long? Something told me that I had, and it made me want to run away before the knot in my stomach burst.

“The worst part of it all is that I’ll never forgive myself for what happened to you afterward, or to Cameron, to his mother. I’ll never let myself forget any it.”

The moments ticked by, and his head was in his hands. He looked helpless, destroyed. So why did I suddenly feel so guilty? Why was Joss screaming in my head to scoot over and slip my arms around him, take care of him this time around? She was right, I had failed myself by not forgiving Sasha as fast as I should’ve. Had he not proven to me already that he wasn’t the same man, no longer the insecure college frat boy whom I’d once known? Hadn’t our lives become entangled enough by this point?

We had, and here I was, still hesitating. Get up Piper. Get up and hold onto him.

The distance between us felt so far, yet I found myself inching closer, until our legs bumped and my arms made their way around him. His scent made my heart hammer in my chest, as if in anticipation of the euphoria awaited it, and all it could do was beat. Sometimes standing still was the best thing to do. Sometimes the loneliness we create inside ourselves becomes our own self-imposed prison that we alone must break out of. We must take down our own walls, brick by hardened brick, just to let ourselves back out and allow us to breathe once more. It was as easy as reaching out and touching the person I loved. It was as easy as saying it was going to be alright.

“Sasha?”

He craned his head to the side as he sat up a little, letting me melt into our embrace. His arms made their way around my body as though they’d been forged to be there, always and forever.

“I love you,” I said. “That’s all I need right now. You’ve made me happier than anyone else ever could. Thank you. Thanks for never giving up.” I met his glistening blue eyes as they studied mine. To watch the little spark which lit them up whenever he was content or laughing, slowly flicker its way back into them was to witness the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. Just like that, it wasn’t so hopeless, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

“I love you back.” He pulled me closer, hugging me strongly enough to make it feel as though we were one person.

“Clean slate?”

He nodded. That mesmerizing smile returned in full force. “Brand spankin’ new. I know I don’t deserve it, but I will do everything in my power to make up for it, Piper.”

Why did he have to be so humble? It was impossible to hate him in any way, and as I peered into his gleaming blue eyes, I knew it was something I’d never be able to understand. How easy it had been to curse him when he wasn’t in my life. But the days of nursing my broken heart and building up the steel walls around me were long gone. I was certain that if it’d been me who had run into him at his coffee shop first instead of Joss, things wouldn’t be like they were now. It would’ve probably taken me one glance at him to turn around and run out of there as fast as my little feet could carry me, never to see him again.

I decided that the fates were definitely having fun with me. I sighed, feeling weary from the weeklong fog I’d cocooned myself in and ready for sunnier days. For goodness sake, I thought, look at him! Cooking for me, begging on his knees, an awesome father, and damn good looking. I realized I was completely gone. But I thought I could deal with that.

Chapter Twenty

Piper

“JOSS?” I PULLED open the door, wrapping my robe around me tighter. No one ever visited me so late at night. Only Sasha, maybe, but he was in the bedroom at the moment. Who else but Joss would be knocking on my door so early in the morning? But why hadn’t she used her key? Maybe she’d lost it.

I flattened my hair, which was in a matted mess from the night before. Sasha had been spending almost every waking hour he had with me. Even Cam had taken up residence at my place for part of the week.

But it wasn’t Joss standing with Leah outside my door that day. The poor girl looked spooked, her red eyes swollen from crying. I’d let her rush into my arms, wrapping hers around me so tightly and feeling her silent sobs explode as she soaked my shirt. The man with her turned out to be a police officer, his badge shiny and stark against his khaki shirt. His Metro badge was sewn securely to his shoulder, and his shirt was bulky, like he wore heavy Kevlar underneath it. He waited patiently as Leah’s little frame shook from crying, and I processed the scene before me. I was nothing but shocked. Where was Joss?

“Miss Sandervale?”

“Yes, that’s me.” I answered, bewildered by why Leah was here without her mother. A growing dread spread through me, hoping to choke the breath in my chest before he said what he was going to say. I suddenly feared it and didn’t want to know what was going on anymore. Don’t speak… don’t say it, I silently pleaded with my eyes.

“I’m really sorry to be the one bringing you this news, but… Leah’s mother, Ms. Wetherson, was killed in a car accident tonight. The babysitter told me that you’re listed as the emergency contact and also named as the girl’s guardian if anything were to happen to Ms. Wetherson.”

I didn’t hear much of what he said after the car accident part. My heart had arrested at his words. “Wh… what did you say?” My voice sounded far away, and my knees felt weak and unsteady. If not for Leah’s whimpers bringing me back to myself, I was sure I would’ve blacked out.

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